Have our law enforcers been pushed into a war they did not start and cannot win? Is it even possible to stop a trade where $500 of cocaine can bring $100,000 on America’s streets? Is our drug war tantamount to our Viet Nam war where is no winner? Lots of entrepreneurial spirits are going to enter that arena simply for the profit margin.
Until moving to Crescent City, I was majorly ignorant about marijuana. It wasn’t until I met some constituents with terminal illnesses, loss of appetite from chemo, or pain from degenerative diseases that caused my attitude to shift. I now take the position that it is sheer stupidity that keeps our laws the way they are, particularly about marijuana. If ever there was a “drug” that needed to be decriminalized, this is it.
Looking at the budget for our prisons, which have more prisoners incarcerated than the rest of the entire world, it’s no wonder our nation is in such dire straits. Why are we incarcerating a drug addict-turned-pusher to support their habit instead of getting them medical attention? Is it because in order to support their habit, they distribute, sell or rob? What if those addicts got methadone over the counter, or rehabilitation and treatment instead?
How many felons take up space in our prisons because of our arcane marijuana laws? If we concentrate solely on money, why aren’t we changing our emphasis from locking them up in prison to locking them up in hospitals? In a 40+ year war on drugs, over $1 trillion has been spent housing them in a prison. The sum is staggering.
In our town, our Sheriff, former DA, and county employees met and agreed it was time to close down all the cooperatives and dispensaries. This action serves no purpose to decrease drug related criminal activity in our community. Instead, it forces legal users of medical marijuana into the illicit drug domain which may put them in legal jeopardy, turning a person from someone needing medication into a criminal.
“Decriminalize” does not mean people can carry around, use, and sell drugs free from police interference. That would be legalization. Decriminalization means that possession and use were moved out of the criminal courts into a special court where each offender’s unique situation is judged by legal experts, psychologists, and social workers. Treatment and further action is decided in these courts, where addicts and drug use is treated as a public health service rather than referring it to the justice system.
Let’s look around the world and see if other nations have had better luck than the good old USA with decriminalizing drugs.
On July 1st, 2001, Portugal decriminalized every imaginable drug, from marijuana, to cocaine, to heroin. They changed their philosophy from labeling drug users as criminals to people affected by a disease. Some thought Lisbon would become a drug tourist haven; others predicted usage rates among youths to surge. Eleven years later it turns out they were both wrong.
It used to be that 5,000 users lined up every day in Lisbon to buy heroin and sneak into a hillside honeycomb of derelict housing to shoot up. In dark, stinking corners, addicts — some with maggots squirming under track marks — staggered between the occasional corpse, scavenging used, bloody needles. Compare that to Portugal today: outreach health workers provide addicts with fresh needles, swabs, little dishes to cook up the injectable mixture, disinfectant, and condoms.
Their statistics show that drug addicts were reduced by half in 2010. A person caught with a 10 day supply or less was treated as a patient, not a criminal. By 2008 their statistics reflected:
** Drug-related court cases dropped 66 percent.
** Drug-related HIV cases dropped 75 percent. In 2002, 49 percent of people with AIDS were addicts; by 2008 that number fell to 28 percent.
** The number of regular users held steady at less than 3 percent of the population for marijuana and less than 0.3 percent for heroin and cocaine — figures that show decriminalization brought no surge in drug use.
* The number of people treated for drug addiction rose 20% from 2001 to 2008.
Brazil and Uruguay have eliminated jail time for people carrying small amounts of drugs for personal use. Vancouver, Canada, has North America’s first legal drug consumption room, dubbed as “a safe, health-focused place where people inject drugs and connect to health care services.”
There are needle exchanges in Cambodia and methadone treatment in Poland.
In Switzerland, where addicts are supervised as they inject heroin, addiction has steadily declined. According to medical studies, no one has died from an overdose there since the program began in 1994. The program is also credited with reducing crime and improving addicts’ health.
Drug use is one of those inconvenient facts of life. It’s been around since ancient times. It’s our approach in dealing with it that makes or breaks the cycle of turning casual users into hardened criminals or allowing addicts to spread disease, clog our legal system, and prey on society. What will it take for our elected officials to become open minded enough to change their Neanderthal thinking?